Sudanese officials: diplomatic deal with Israel is near

23.10.2020

Sudanese officials confirmed on Thursday that a senior US-Israeli delegation flew to Sudan on a private jet this week to wrap up a deal that would make Sudan the third Arab country to normalise ties with Israel this year.

Such a deal would deepen Sudan's engagement with the West after President Donald Trump's conditional agreement this week to remove the North African nation from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. It also would deliver a foreign policy achievement for Trump as he seeks re-election on 3 November, and give a boost to his embattled ally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, told the "Fox & Friends" programme on Thursday morning that "there's more to come" after the recent US-brokered accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. "I think we're going to have some announcements soon on that front," O'Brien said.

Official data posted on the website FlightAware said a private plane flew on Wednesday from Tel Aviv to the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, where it stayed for roughly seven hours before returning to Tel Aviv.

Two senior Sudanese officials confirmed the visit. One of them, a senior military figure, said the US-Israeli delegation came to put final touches on a deal establishing ties with Israel. The delegation included Ronen Peretz, the acting director-general of Netanyahu's office, and Brig. Gen. Miguel  Correa, the senior director for Gulf Affairs on the US National Security Council, the official said.

They met with Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of Sudan's transitional government, and a top adviser to Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, he said.

A second official said the emerging deal would include Israeli aid and investment, particularly in technology and agriculture. The Americans and Israelis also promised to talk to allies in the Gulf and the West to bring investment and debt relief to Sudan. The visit came at a time of protests in Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan over dire economic conditions.

The officials did not give a time frame but said an announcement could come at "any time" from Trump. They spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to Hamdok on Thursday. "Secretary Pompeo applauded Prime Minister Hamdok's efforts-to-date to improve Sudan's relationship with Israel and expressed hope that they would continue, and underscored continuing US support for Sudan's ongoing democratic transition," she said.

The deal would hinge on Sudan following through on its pledge to deliver $335 million to compensate American victims of past terror attacks and their families. The money is meant for victims of the 1998 bombings of US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by the al-Qaida network while its leader, Osama bin Laden, was living in Sudan.

On Thursday, the US State Department said it had been informed by Sudan that the transfer of the funds would be concluded shortly.

Getting off the list is a key incentive for the Sudanese government to establish official ties with Israel. It would open the door for Sudan to get international loans and aid needed to revive its battered economy and rescue the country's transition to democracy.

Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy after a popular uprising last year led the military to overthrow the long-time autocrat, Omar al-Bashir. A military-civilian government rules the country, with elections possible in late 2022. (AP)

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